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Firefly by Henry Porter

First published in Great Britain; published by Grove Atlantic/Mysterious Press on October 2, 2018

Stories about plucky young refugees are always good for some heartwarming moments. Firefly combines a refugee story with elements of a spy novel and an action thriller. The plot is smart, the characters are complex, and the detailed atmosphere contributes a sense of realism to the story.

Firefly begins with a young Syrian refugee named Naji who is trying not to drown after his raft capsizes. Naji has stolen some information from a terrorist who wants to marry (enslave) Naji’s sister. Naji’s hope is to make his way to Germany, where he can establish himself and send for his family. But Naji is being chased by the terrorist whose information he hid the in the cloud, and the key to the cloud is hidden in the battered cellphone he uses to stay in touch with his sister.

The novel’s other primary character is Paul Samson, a former intelligence operative who is recruited by the SIS to find Naji. A psychologist named Anastasia who worked in one of the refugee camps befriended Naji, learned that he is being pursued by terrorists, and contacted officials who put Samson on the case. Samson is skilled at finding people, and he puts those skills to use as he follows Naji’s trail through Macedonia.

Samson is brave but he’s no superhero, which makes him both believable and sympathetic. Samson relies on his wits rather than muscles and guns. He stands apart from all the former Special Forces thriller heroes who can outfight twenty terrorists at a time. His personality balances darkness with decency.

Naji is cunning and resourceful, but also compassionate. He treats his harrowing journey as an opportunity for learning and growth, but he never stops being a kid who has been forced into an adult world. And he falls in love with a dog, which makes him a good kid. All novels are improved by the inclusion of a dog.

Firefly maintains a steady pace without shortchanging the details that bring stories and characters to life. Henry Porter depicts the problems faced by refugees who flee oppressive regimes with sensitivity that is free from maudlin sentiment. In short, Firefly does everything well. It is one of the most enjoyable thrillers I’ve read this year.


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